Issue 8/2015 summary

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Issue 8/2015 summary

Ineta Dabina (Latvia) Welcome to the world of human values…

This is a journey into the world locked for most people. It is the world of those whom you will possibly never meet, but… it is equally possible that among your clients or your neighbours there are certain people who in future might be imprisoned for life. Their crimes reflect deformation of their personality, emerge in response to such pictures in their heads that we could not imagine even in a nightmare, so for them there were not many choices left …

In 2006 in Latvia, there were 38 prisoners serving life sentences. Current legislation required that such prisoners must be kept in a separate building and under strict surveillance, without any possibility of contact with other categories of prisoners. The law allowed them to become free under probation after 25 years of ‘good’ isolation. In 2006, they had no work and no possibility for education (could not be provided in the conditions of strict isolation). They were entitled to one hour-long walk in courtyard, handcuffed and convoyed by dogs. Those with relatives could see them: 3 long meetings per year (6-12 hours), four short meetings (1-2 hours) and one phone call a month.

Fast forward to 2015 – there are already 53 prisoners with life sentences in Latvia. No changes in the legal system, they remain isolated from other people. No handcuffs, however, and no dogs. Some of them can study or work, and various events are occasionally organised to reduce time spent in their cells. They can spend more time with their families: 4 long meetings (8-16 hours), 6 short meetings (1-2 hours) and 2 phone calls a month. In four or five years some of them will have the right to request early release on parole – after 25 years of isolation. The government has no vision on what will happen with them next. The longer we live with the practice of life incarceration, the more important is the issue of studying the personality of a prisoner serving a life sentence.

It is impossible to imagine an individual’s life without values, and the principal function of values is to regulate the internal and external activities of a person. How does it happen? In order for a person to control his or her social fulfilment, he or she needs to measure him- or herself against certain social norms. In order to speak about a person’s behaviour, views and intellect, other social mirrors are necessary. Values provide one criterion by which one can judge a person’s life as well as his or her concrete actions. Life values and their systems inform a person’s behaviour and enhance social adaptation. Value systems describe peculiarities of a person’s interaction with the environment.

It is common to view deviant behaviour as a consequence of some kind of pathology, a defect in the person’s values. This behaviour can be understood as a result of discord between terminal values as general goals and instrumental values used to achieve these goals. Thus, disruptions appear in the sphere of instrumental values when a concrete social value is pursued using destructive means: thus, material well-being is achieved not through work but through theft, and human dignity is preserved through crime.

Values determine not only the present condition of a personality but also the future, they mobilize all resources of a person for the achievement of the goals and ideals. Thus, it is essential to study the value systems of the people who tend to infringe other people’s boundaries.

The present study of value systems of those imprisoned for life was motivated by the absence of similar research that would disclose the dynamics of personal value orientations during different stages of imprisonment and which is related to the loss of freedom. Three methodologies were used in the present study, including the axio-biographic methodology of Andrey Vardomatskov. This methodology turned out to be the most efficient for the present study, because it revealed the meanings of prisoners’ values and their modes of thinking. A person always behaves according to the meaning with which he or she bestows the results of his or her behaviour. However, the person is not always aware of his or her system of individual meanings.

The study was conducted in 2006 and 2013 using the same sample.

One of the methods, the principle of arrangement, studied values on the level of ideals and on the level of individual priorities. On the level of ideals and beliefs, values have considerable impact on a personality, but they are not always manifested in behaviour, and there are different reasons: no possibility to fulfil the value, the influence of surrounding people, etc. Values pertaining to the level of individual priorities are usually manifested in behaviour.

The study showed that the main values were the parents, independence, freedom, friends, love and ability to communicate with other people. But what is the meaning of these values? For instance, in order to achieve one’s goals, a person needs love, and at the time this love may come from the parents. The value of love also helps the person to find way in life and determine his or her values. The value of independence is directly linked to one’s self, to not being repressed as a person, and this takes place when a person can do what he or she wants. Friends help to fill in the emptiness in his or her soul, to avoid loneliness and to add the feeling of being needed; they also help the person achieve his or her goals and confirm one’s basic goodness.

Realizing and acknowledging a value is not enough for acquisition and internalization of new values. The correctional system is faced with the problem of building life in prison so that it would promote acquisition of new values and, in particular, those instrumental values which provide means of achieving one’s goals, because the number of life prisoners is growing.

Being able to live in predetermined conditions is an achievement in itself. Living on a small, crowded territory, a person must make constant huge efforts at suppressing angry outbursts. The poverty of the material world and isolation are also considerable. Items meet not only the functional needs of a person but also all the criteria of social, psychological and aesthetic requirements. Isolation means separation from the surrounding, from the environment that stimulates life and development, thus resulting in the deprivation of needs. The psychological peculiarity of murderers is their inability to find a socially appropriate way out of critical and highly conflictual situations. As a rule, this takes place against the backdrop of long-term accumulation of negative emotions. Life in prison is an extreme situation, which leads to reduced abilities of psychological adaptation.

By just isolating prisoners from the society without understanding their psychology and finding an individual approach to their personalities that would then be applied to correctional measures, it is impossible to return them to social life.

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